Who is part of the Willamette River Network ?
More than 50 groups have participated in the Willamette River Initiative (WRI) over the past decade, including watershed councils, local governments, universities, land trusts, nonprofit organizations and more. WRI’s participants and other river stakeholders have expressed strong interest in creating a community-driven network to carry on and expand on the supportive role WRI and its partners have filled since 2008.
The early work of the Network staff and board will include an intensive process of one-on-one meetings and a larger gatherings to create alignment around the Network’s shared purpose and opportunities for collaboration. The intent is to deepen relationships with those who have been a part of WRI and expand our constellation to include broader representation and new relationships with more communities across the Willamette and its tributaries.
What resources are available to the new network?
Meyer Memorial Trust has committed $1 million in operations funding to the new network over four years, starting with a $375,000 grant to support operations in the network’s first year. The Network will seek additional resources for network operations and to support the work of network participants. Funding may come from public and private funding sources, such as other regional and national foundations, individual donors, corporate sponsors and local, state and federal government funders.
What role will Meyer Memorial Trust play in the Network?
The Network will operate independently. Like other Oregon nonprofits, it will be eligible to apply for future Meyer grants. Meyer is also providing $1 million in direct grant funding for restoration projects on the Willamette River through 2021.
Why was WRI created?
The largest river by volume in Oregon, the home watershed to more than two-thirds of Oregon’s population and three-quarters of its economic output, and a source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, the Willamette River system is essential to Oregonians' health, wellbeing and prosperity.
Despite decades of effort to clean up the Willamette, pollution, overheated water, poorly-planned development and habitat loss still plague the watershed. These problems pose a threat to our region’s livelihood by pushing native salmon and steelhead to the brink of extinction and compromising drinking water quality for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians.
They are also entirely solvable. When Meyer in 2007 began considering ways to target its grantmaking around persistent problems in Oregon, the Willamette River stood out as a critical resource to protect. Conservation groups throughout the basin were equipped with the skills and human power to restore floodplain habitats and address pollution problems. But they lacked the capacity and regional coordination to reach their full potential. Many recognized the need for a coordinating body with the ability to spark action in the Willamette. Enter Meyer.
In 2008, Meyer made a 10-year funding commitment to support efforts to steer the Willamette River and its tributaries toward a cleaner, healthier future. These investments have resulted in restored habitat for federally protected salmon, fewer invasive plants, and scientific research that has deepened our understanding of the watershed.
Over the last five years, WRI has also supported communications and policy work, environmental and outdoor education, and capacity building to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion within the Willamette conservation and restoration field.
Which are some examples of partnerships supported by the Initiative?
WRI has supported the development and operations of a number of impactful partnerships, including:
- Willamette Mainstem Cooperative (Invasives control and habitat restoration through a public/private partnership on the river between Albany and Corvallis)
- Anchor Habitat Working Group (Collaborative to develop shared priorities and funding for river restoration projects on the mainstem Willamette River)
- Willamette Aquatic Invasives Network (Aquatic invasive weed control on the mainstem river)
- Willamette Model Watershed Program (Support for shared learning, capacity, strategy and funding on seven tributaries)
- Willamette Collaborative Grow Project (Native plant collaborative supply chain for 12 restoration groups)
- Upper Willamette Stewardship Network (Six conservation groups collaborating on shared goals in the Upper Willamette)
- Clean Rivers Coalition (Stormwater management agencies in the Willamette and beyond creating shared messaging about river needs)
- The Willamette Future Project (Willamette drinking water providers collaborating on shared priorities and strategies)
Why create the Willamette River Network?
Although WRI and its partners have made significant progress over the past decade, much work remains. Our grantees and partners have told us they’d like support for continued connection and strategic shared services to keep making progress toward a swimmable, fishable, drinkable river. Our Advisory Group has created a vision for a future Willamette River Network with the following goals:
- Equitable River Movement
- Healthy Willamette River System, and
- Communities and Rivers Thriving Together
The Network’s primary roles will be to:
- Support collaborative planning and action
- Bring new funding into the basin
- Serve as a hub for information and learning, and
- Share our stories
Why organize as a network?
By intentionally organizing as a network, the Willamette River Network will be able to coordinate, support and build on existing efforts, while also attracting new partners. This will enable even more collaboration to achieve strategic impact across the Willamette Basin. As network participants become even more connected, we anticipate many more opportunities for collaboration and impact to arise.
Why co-directors? How will this work?
WRI’s Advisory Group encouraged us to pursue co-directors because this leadership structure will enable the new Network to collaborate deeply, share power and embody equity.
Each co-director will take the lead in certain areas: One will have primary responsibility for network formation and coordination, and one will have primary responsibility for fundraising and strategic communications. Each co-director’s specific skills and experience will help determine their other responsibilities.The co-directors will also share some responsibilities.
We expect the hiring process to include opportunities for co-director finalists to meet and talk with one another about their strengths, styles, and potential working agreements so they can get a sense of whether they are compatible.
How have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) been part of WRI’s development, and development of the new network?
When WRI launched 10 years ago, it was not focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. Concurrent with Meyer’s foundation-wide commitment to centering DEI as a focus of its grantmaking, WRI has prioritized DEI in its work over the past four years by supporting a broader, more diverse set of grantees and partners, providing equity training for grantees and partners, and deepening the collective understanding of current inequities in our society and the field of conservation.
In planning for the new network, WRI staff and advisors have prioritized equity in several ways:
- A diverse team is helping to recruit the Network’s board and directors, with a strong preference for candidates who have demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
- The Network’s mission, goals and values prioritize equity
- The Network co-directors and board will participate in an equity training retreat early in their tenure
Our Blueprint for the new Network, developed with the WRI Advisory Group, articulates the following equity and inclusion values: “We acknowledge that the conservation field was built on a history of exclusion and displacement of indigenous people and other communities of color. As we build a more inclusive movement to care for, and connect to, the Willamette, we continually work to understand the impact of our actions, dismantle inequities and confront oppression in all its forms.”
What approach have you taken in recruiting the Network Board?
We believe a diverse board and staff create a stronger, more relevant and impactful network. This belief informs our recruitment of the Network Board. WRI Director Allison Hensey is working in close partnership with a Board Development Team to recruit the board, which will be in place by the end of June. Later this summer and fall, incoming board members will have opportunities to meet and be welcomed by Meyer’s trustees and members of the WRI Advisory Group and larger community.
All Board members must have a passion for the Network’s vision and a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We seek racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, geographic and age diversity in the Board as a whole.
Other desired qualities for the Board include:
- Relationship to communities with a strong stake in the interconnected health of rivers and people
- Willingness and ability to connect to resources and funding with staff support
- Expertise in river health, water quality and supply and habitat protection
- Expertise in communications, policy, health, social justice, business and finance, collaboration, urban planning, agriculture and forestry
As the Network’s fiscal sponsor, what roles will the Tides Center play?
The Tides Center will be responsible for Human Resources, payroll and benefits administration, financial management, risk management, tax filings, grant administration, and contracting. Using Tides as a fiscal sponsor will enable the Network staff and board to focus on mission work and resource development.
Once the new network is formed and operating, the board and co-directors will determine the best arrangement for its long-term operations, which may involve continued fiscal sponsorship or becoming a free-standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.